By Lamin Cham
The imam of Sukuta, Alhaji Ismaila Baye, died yesterday. He was believed to be about a 100 years old.
Until his death, Imam Baye was believed to be the longest serving imam in The Gambia. He was installed imam in 1976.
The charismatic and articulate imam was respected for his readiness to tell truth to power. In 1981, alongside the late chief Sanjally Bojang of Brikama and others, Imam Baye was arrested by coup leader Kukoi Samba Sanyang who forced him to broadcast a message appealing to former President Jawara to give up his attempts to return to Banul and to power from Senegal.
Following Jawara’s eventual return, Imam Baye was detained for five months and then released.
He was greatly admired by the second Gambian president Yahya Jammeh but the two fell out after the imam famously preached for Jammeh to respect the sanctity of human life. They later reconciled in the last years of Jammeh’s rule.
According to Sukuta-born historian Mamakeh Bojang, Imam Baye was the son of Maa-Jaye Cham, the daughter of Karanta Banna Cham who ruled as both chief and alkalo, the first and only man to hold both position in the historic town.
Imam Baye’s father who came from Senegal was a fighter against French colonialism and later fled to Sukuta where as a young man he won the admiration of Chief Banna Cham who gave him his daughter for marriage.
“At home in Sukuta, Imam Baye was known to be both firm and flexible, friendly to all generations of people. No one questioned his wisdom and no dispute ever referred to him went unresolved. He was a pillar on whom everyone leaned and his passing is a great loss,” Mamakeh said.
Thousands attended his burial last evening at the Sukuta Muslim cemetery, a short distance from the mosque where he led prayers for nearly half-a-century.